Photographing the 7 Secrets of Grand Central Terminal

Part 1: Hidden in Plain Sight

As you set foot in the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal, one of the first sights you will see is the clock sitting atop the info booth right in the center of the room. Hundreds of thousands of people traverse the floor of that grand room and see this clock every day. But few realize it is made from Opal and worth between 10 and 20 million dollars.

Officially there are 7 secrets to Grand Central Terminal, some hidden in plain sight, some not so easily seen. What are the 7 secrets?

1. The clock on main concourse above the information booth – the clock faces are made from Opal and it is worth between 10 and 20 million dollars.
2. The grand staircases on the east and west ends of the concourse – the eastern staircase is a few inches shorter and newer than the western staircase.
3. The constellations on the ceiling are in the wrong perspective – as if looking down from the heavens, not up from Earth.
4. There is a hole in the ceiling – visible from the main floor
5. There is a secret staircase, through a secret door in the middle of the concourse
6. There is a “secret” super-sub-basement (the lowest space on the island) called the M42
7. Franklin Roosevelt had a private platform built below the Waldorf Astoria. A boxcar still remains there from the Roosevelt era.

I have had several opportunities to photograph Grand Central Terminal and have collect images of all of these secrets. Barring one (and dependant on your vantage point), wide angle to normal lenses are the best choice to get the grand scope of these objects.

In 1995, during the most recent renovations of Grand Central Terminal, the decision was made to install a staircase on the East end of the concourse. The construction company hired to do the job researched the original plans for this iteration of the terminal and found that the plans had called for a grand staircase at both the east and west ends of the concourse, but somehow, only the stairs on the west end had been built. So, they had the original quarry (in Italy) reopened and obtained the stone needed to build the exact same staircase on the east end. Yet, for some reason, the stairs on the east end of the concourse turned out to be a couple of inches shorter than their older counterpart.

I don’t know how one would go about photographically showing the difference in height between these two staircases, at least not in some sort of “artistic”, visually pleasing way. However, much can be made from long exposures and/or taking an unusual vantage point. (for the record, these are the west stairs)

“They’re coming for you, man!” said a young man as he scurried past me, carrying his tripod. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, tripod at its shortest length, and camera pointed straight up at the ceiling. I looked over my shoulder and noticed the policeman coming my way. I proudly displayed the sticker on my chest. “Ah, I see! Special Pass.” “My mommy says I’m special.” “Yeah?” he chuckled, “Mine too! Have a good day sir.”

I must have had my pass checked seven times in the hour I spent on the floor that day. To be sure, using a tripod in Grand Central Terminal is no problem at all, but you must get a pass to do so. Information regarding how to get a pass to use a tripod (and other large “professional” gear) can be found on Grand Central’s website.

In the 1988 film The House on Carroll Street they utilized the hole in a stunt where a man (Mandy Patinkin’s character) falls from the ceiling. For this “secret”, it might be nice to have a telephoto lens to get you in nice and close. I didn’t have one with me on the days I was shooting the ceiling, so I could recommend any creative options… I can tell you that you can find this toward the west end of the concourse.

In Part 2: Underground, I will take you deep beneath the terminal and show you the remaining three secrets.

If you like more information about my excursions into Grand Central Terminal, you can find the stories published on Enticing the Light, here and here.


11 Responses to “Photographing the 7 Secrets of Grand Central Terminal”

  1. 1 Roger Hodge
    December 18, 2011 at 9:12 am

    Hi Sean,

    I’ve noticed that no photograhs taken today of the main concourse show the shafs of light falling on the floor that were seen in some of the b&w photos of yesteryear is there a reason for this.

    Roger Hodge

  2. 2 Roger Hodge
    December 18, 2011 at 9:16 am

    Is there a reason why the shafts of light from the high windows on the south side of the concourse no longer seem to project themselves as in old b&w photographs

  3. January 4, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Hi Roger,
    That’s a good point. I don’t know why didn’t appear, besides the fact that I wasn’t actually try for them. I’ll have to look into it more the next time I get a chance to go out that way.


  4. 4 Ron Sherman
    January 25, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    No shafts of light because there may be a building now that was not there back when the shafts of light were seen

    • March 1, 2012 at 8:24 pm

      Probably correct about the obstructing buildings. Another thought I had was that the air is cleaner so less scattering of sunlight. When they cleaned the ceiling it turned out it was stained from cigarette smoke.

  5. June 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Did you ever publish part 2?

    • June 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm

      Unfortunately no. Since I started this blog project, my music career has taken a pretty big upswing, leaving me with little time for photography. And I’m pretty severely backlogged on what I have been able to do. I guess it’s not such a bad dilemma, though.

  6. June 17, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    Great info. Lucky me I found your website by chance (stumbleupon).

    I have book-marked it for later!

  7. June 13, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    At least more complete…

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July 2010


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